I happened to run into Mr. Bryan Hart, recently, at the Internet and he deigned to grace me with his time and his words… lots of words. Bryan has been working on the webcomic and internet community, Disassemblance, for almost 4 years and his pent up wisdom poured out of him, so, like, swine before pearls, I ignored him and told him to just e-mail me later. Enjoy.
Ian K: How did Disassemblance come about?
B.E. Hart: Well, as overly dramatic as this is going to sound, I actually came up with the idea for the comic on the night I was going to kill myself. I was severely depressed and I had a million things rushing around in my head, and just want some silence. It was at that point that I noticed one of many sketch pads I had lying around, and a seemingly nondescript little figure scrawled on the page. I instantly started getting ideas for what this character was all about. I took a lot of my fears, anxieties and insanity from my own brain and squished them all into this little being –(who would eventually become my main character Ethan). I then created more and more characters and came up with how they all mesh together. Disassemblance evolved from that motley crew and became a much needed distraction for me.
Ian K: Dis has upwards of 12 characters compared to most webcomics which seem to have between 2-4 main characters. How do you manage a cast that size?
B.E. Hart: How do I manage that many characters? I can’t! Seriously though, I have a heck of a lot of characters and to be honest, I have about three times more characters that I just haven’t been able to introduce into the comic yet. I have always had big plans for Dis — to create
an entire world of interesting oddballs. But only doing short
strips, three days a week, its hard to get them all in. Sometimes literally years will go by before a less common character will appear in a strip again. And I KNOW that confuses some of my readers who are fairly new to the comic. Really I created Dis with a longer format comic in mind.
As of right now, I mostly just focus on the adventures of the central crew of six or so friends. Other characters who were meant to be more central to the story, got pushed back into the wings, only to be brought out for quick appearances. Ethan’s sort of, kinda girlfriend Samantha is a good example of this. She was originally intended to be a pretty central character, but now her appearances are few and far between.
I’ve thought out each character’s background thoroughly, and I can keep them all straight in my head, but of course, my concern is for the reader.
Ian K: How did you develop the distinctive and iconic style that still dominates the majority of the Dis archives?
B.E. Hart: The look of Disassemblance is more the result of necessity than design. When I first started doing Dis I didn’t have a graphics tablet or even a scanner to draw the strips by hand, I had to use a mouse. So I drew (very carefully) characters with a simple look — I couldn’t manage to do much more! Since it was so incredibly time consuming to draw with a mouse, I couldn’t afford to redraw the characters, so I copied and pasted, making slight modifications where needed. People got so used to the look, however, that even after I got the tablet I still continued using the same images and technique!
Ian K: After 3 years, you switched to hand drawing. Why did you make the switch, what do you think you gained from it, and what do you think you lost from it?
B.E. Hart: I had reached a point where making Dis strips was becoming mechanical. Copy, paste, word bubble, text, comic. I was beginning to feel disconnected from the comic, like I wasn’t really inputting much creative energy. Doing the comic was becoming a chore and I think that began to show in the quality of the strips. I was also afraid that I was missing out on an opportunity to grow as an artist.
With every comic pieced together, I wasn’t forced to draw a lot, often, or given new visual challenges. So one day I freaked out and started doing everything freehand.
I gained a reconnection with the comic. I felt like I was actually creating again. Every day I am forced to draw the strips and it is definitely helping with my ability to become more consistent in my drawing. I’m also able to experiment with various techniques and discover what works best for Disassemblance.
What did I lose? Time mostly. It takes me three times as long to do one strip now that I actually sketch, “ink”, and color each comic freehand. Also, surprisingly, a lot of my readers were kind of upset over the change. I received allegations that I was sacrificing a clean, classic look. But people have largely warmed up to the new comics as they have noticed a renewed enthusiasm I have for Dis.
Ian K: After 3 years, you started making with the cuss words. What up with that, dawg?
B.E. Hart: Really? I hadn’t noticed! 😀
Earlier on in the comic I pondered whether or not I should have them swear. Just trying to gauge what “rating” I would want my comic strip to be. However, eventually I decided not to worry about it, and just let them communicate as freely as I would expect them too. Some characters never swear, and some of them swear in just about every panel. My friends and I were dreadfully vile in our manner of speaking when we were that age, so I guess you can blame my childhood influence.
I’d have to say that there is also an element of growing up amongst the characters. When I first started doing the comic, I saw my characters as fairly young and innocent. As the comic has gone on, however, they are loosing a bit of that innocence.
Ian K: Why “Disassemblance?” Why not “14 Weirdos” or “Pariahriffic” or “We’re not Goths… mostly.”
B.E. Hart: I had been drawing Disassemblance long before I ever put it online, and most of that time it went unnamed. I was searching for a title that would really capture the essence of the strip. I remember seeing the word “assembly” or “assemblance” associated with some gathering that was taking place — ya know the kind, where thousands of people who have exactly the same view get together and tell each other how right they are — and I thought to myself, “My characters are NOT
THAT.” What also made “disassemblance” the perfect name was that it
had a connotation of disassembling, which I found appropriate as my character’s philosophical purpose is one of deconstructing society’s assumptions.
Ian K: What advice do you have for web comic artists just starting out?
B.E. Hart: I’d say “Just do it!” but I’d likely open myself up to serious lawsuit.
I find that inertia is the enemy of creative pursuit. I spent a long time reading Real Life Comics and thinking about how cool it would be to start a comic, but still sat on my ass waiting. For what? I dunno. Perhaps I expected the characters to appear on the page and engage themselves in wacky adventures. But alas, I invested years in waiting for such an event to occur, and it never happened.
You’ve got to suck it up and invest the time, energy and other resources. Which can be overwhelming in the beginning. You spend hours crafting your comics, only to have a handful of people you know give you (seemingly) obligatory compliments.
Tied into this, make sure you are okay with forever being unknown.
Create primarily for the joy of creation. It’s very nice to have an audience, but you need to be prepared to do the comic, alone, in a dark corner far, far away from the spotlight. Thinking you are going to be showered with praise from millions of strangers upon the posting of the first comic is just begging for disappointment. Even amazing art and brilliant writing is not going to guarantee your success.
To work myself into the proper state of mind I continually ask myself one question: “If me and two friends were the only ones to ever read this, would I still do it?” If you would answer “no,” then perhaps it is best you don’t do it, because that may very well be the reality.
Create for yourself, create for creation’s sake, first and foremost.
If you remain realistic and dedicated to your art form, you invest the time and energy and remain committed and are consistent with what and when you publish, you will get the most out of the webcomicing experience (and likely get a readership beyond you and a couple
If you are not investing your precious time into creating your comic, don’t expect others to invest their precious time into reading it!
Ian K: Where do you think web comics are headed and what is their potential?
B.E. Hart: Generally when I think of the “future of webcomics” its only as a part of a larger movement of wholly independent artist and creators.
The internet is an absolutely wondrous thing and one of the best things to come into being for artists of all sorts. No publishers, managers, labels, syndicates — everything is under the individuals control. Some might find this lack of greater structure overwhelming, but I personally view it as liberating. As more webcomicers emerge, there will be an ever growing companion industry to assist artists in promoting, publishing and merchandising their creations.
I’d also like to see the creation of a webcomic association or society. Where resources are made available for cross-promotion, mutual support and even helping people make comicing their full time (or close to full time) pursuit with practical things like health insurance available through the association (its the pragmatic concerns like this that keep me from quitting my day job and going full time).
I have no idea what the next round of technology will bring — I’m no visionary — but I will guarantee that (web)comicers with be there to take advantage of it!
Ian K: Are there any mistakes you’ve made over the course of Disassemblance that you think the Digital Strippers could learn from?
B.E. Hart: Don’t be a wallflower! Get involved in the webcomic community, connect with other artists, make it to any convention possible! Due to excessive reclusiveness, I spent the early part of my comic’s life not really connecting with the community at large. And by the time my comic reached a point of success, I became too busy to really invest the time I wanted. Now I am three and a half years into my comic and am still quite unknown in the greater webcomic world. I have a healthy readership, but they are not really “webcomic people” by and large. So I seem somewhat doomed to be stuck somewhere in webcomic limbo.
But I feel I must also warn people to find some balance in their participation in the community. If you read every blog, listen to every podcast, and maintain a list of 200 comics you read daily, then you will quickly find yourself without time to invest in your own comic! There came a time when I tried to escape the aforementioned limbo by doing as much as I could to inject myself into the community at large, but my comic suffered noticeably.
Balance, people. Balance.
Ian K: You’ve gone 3 1/2 years or so on a M-W-F schedule without missing a single update… even when you’re computer crashed completely and you were stranded in the wilderness of Bangor, you managed to update. What bought on that level of devotion?
B.E. Hart: I’ve done everything in my power to never miss an update, the reason for which has everything to do with the reader. Not only is there the practical side of being consistent, so that my readers keep coming back, but there is also an issue of respect. When people make it a regular (if not daily) activity to take time out of their busy lives to see what foolishness you have put up on a website, that is a serious commitment and I find it to be nothing short of insult to be lazy or careless about updating.
Ian K: Awesome, thank you too much, sir.
B.E. Hart: Thanks again. I’m still getting that check, right?